Saturday, May 26, 2012

Griefwalking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Mother died four months ago today and I did my best to not remember, but sometimes the body remembers what the mind strives to forget.  I woke up anxious and sad and have been that way all day, despite my best attempts to not focus, or even think about, it as an anniversary. My mind tried to block it, but the cells of my being are griefwalking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Well-meaning people have wondered why I'm not better yet and I try to tell them that yes, I am better.   I am coping.  I am doing.  I am accomplishing.  I am functioning. I'm just not all better and ready to leap joyfully into the next stage of life.

I'm still griefwalking.

It's not just mother's death.  It's a lot of things that all came together in one crashing crescendo with her passing.

First, it was the years of caregiving, which had begun to take their toll on me physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. In the eight or so months before her actual passing, I was growing increasingly fragile and so, when her death happened, it wasn't like I was in top form, at the pinnacle of my very best self.  The blow came when I was already stretched and strained.

Second, elder care is crushingly expensive.  By the time mother died, it was costing around $6000/month for her care.  Allowing her to be in her own space, surrounded by her own things, and loved unto death was invaluable, but the stress of finances, coupled with the fact that I was spending so much of my time and energy caring for her that my own financial situation was becoming precarious, hasn't helped the grief process.  In the past four months, I've had to sort out her financial situation, figure out how to pay her final expenses and now, begin to try to plan to provide for myself. Perhaps I should be looking at this as an exciting new challenge, but right this second it all feels draining, not energizing and stimulating.

Third, while it's still enwrapped in our legal system and I'm not free to share all the details, immediately after her death, I learned that she had been robbed on a massive scale by someone she considered a dear and trusted friend.  So as well as dealing with my own griefwalk, I'm now involved in criminal prosecutions on a federal level against someone I thought I knew well.  Someone who even attended her funeral. Someone who betrayed her...and me...while feigning friendship and caring. Needless to say, that has added its own level of stress these past months.

Fourth, it's Memorial Day weekend, and there is a great emphasis on remembering those who have passed. The anniversary of my father's death was last weekend, with all that entailed, and now I am reminded again, by every flag and flower, that death has been permeating my life these past months.

Finally, after 14 years of caregiving, her death wasn't just her passing, but also the passing of what I have known as "normal" since my son left for college.  Now, truly, I am experiencing an empty nest on many levels--and finding myself regrieving things that I thought I had dealt with years before.  Apparently, I hadn't completely resolved them, because they have come back, showing up in the mirror of my life, leaving me feeling rudderless and lost much of the time.

So today, I'm struggling.  Tears dangle on my lashes and needles of pain pierce my heart. Every cell of my body weeps.

But in the midst of the griefwalk, I remind myself that I have survived the past four months. I have dealt with many issues. I have not been crushed or destroyed.

And I remind myself, too, that God uses all things for good, including the times we find ourselves stumbling one more day through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Second Death and New Beginnings

As I face Memorial Day, the first without my parents, I'm surprised at just how flattened I feel. Trying to write, to be creative, to find new life, to do new things seems like impossible tasks. When I came across this quote today, it spoke directly to me:

"Our suffering becomes exacerbated when we allow one loss to lead to another... it causes the gradual destruction of the soul, the death of our spirit.  The tragedy of the 'second death' can be a worse tragedy than the first.  The first kind of death happens to us, the second kind of death happens in us."--Jerry Sittser
And so I am going to let the drenching rain of an Oregon spring close out the day while I go think and pray about second deaths...and the hope of a new beginnings.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


 I hadn't thought of this in years and years until a friend reminded me of it. 
It has aged well.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mary and Restoration

To go along with my thoughts about the Rosary for Restoration, a reflection on Mary.

Prayer Results

I've been keeping track of my prayers this month and periodically I check the list.  So far, it is as follows:

Yes (as in clear, no question YES)--8
No (as in clear, no question NO)--0
Unclear if it was yes or no, muddy answer--3
No answer--10

The yeses have often been rather small things, like getting a project done quickly.
The unclear have generally leaned toward "no" rather than "yes."
The no answer tend to be on more major things like resolution of a law suit, medical tests, and finances.

So there it is.

Change Happens, but That Doesn't Mean I Have to Like it

Dealing with change, or trying to, is something I've learned I'm not really very good at.  Not that I ever thought I was; it's just that these past few months have highlighted how really bad I am at accepting change.

I do everything I can to resist change and when I can't resist any more, I go into Anxiety Girl mode.  Leaping into panic in a single bound, I can immediately create my very own horror movie in my brain in which everything bad that could possibly happen does.

But deep down I know that all things change.  I know that all things must change. I realize that once we stop changing, we also stop living. So even if my first response to change is to plant my feet firmly and resist with body and soul, and my second response is to don my Anxiety Girl tights, I am trying to learn to stop, take a deep breath and let the change happen.

One thing I'm learning to do is to pray the famous Serenity Prayer -- not the short version we all know, but the entire actual prayer.  Sometimes it helps a little.  Sometimes it helps a lot.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
--Reinhold Niebuhr

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Rosary for Restoration

I'm not a big rosary fan...My mind wanders and even with beads to keep track, I end up saying the wrong number of Hail Marys almost every decade.  But despite that, I often find the mysteries of the rosary to be particularly well suited for prayer and meditation on many of the problems that I (and others) face.

This week, I've been thinking about restoring relationships and how the Joyful Mysteries can give us hope, even as we deal with heartbreak and sadness when it comes to members of our family.

The First Joyful Mystery:  The Annunciation
It would be nice if an angel appeared to us, as we struggle with how to mend broken lives, to tell us exactly what is coming next, but that doesn't happen.  However, hidden in the story of Mary and the Annunciation is a line that we can cling to:  Nothing is impossible with God.  Even when it seems that the walls and obstacles to restoration are insurmountable, this meditation reminds me that what I see as utterly impossible is possible for God.  So, I take a deep breath and try to remember that, even in the darkest of nights.

The Second Joyful Mystery:  The Visitation
What I find comforting in this meditation is not that Elizabeth was going to be up nights with an infant, but that when she thought it was too late, that she was too old, that too much time had gone by, God's timing entered in. When I feel that it is too late for real change, I remember Elizabeth and think, "Maybe there is still time."

The Third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity
At the center of this meditation is a birth, new life, new creation.  When it comes to family dynamics, often that is what is needed--a new beginning. So I cling to the promise of the Nativity, hoping that in my own life there can be a new start as well.  (And when I begin to doubt, worrying that too much time has passed, that it's too late, I go back to the Visitation!)

The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation in the Temple
Often what has gone wrong with relationships lies in the fact that there was no spiritual dimension to them originally; that God, the Divine, took a backseat to the mundane and the profane.  So as I think on this mystery, I remind myself that when (not if) I get a new beginning, this time, I will be sure to include the spiritual at the presenting the relationship at the Temple, so to speak.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery: The Finding in the Temple
The final meditation is the goal--to have a lost and broken relationship restored. Finding Jesus in the Temple wasn't just rescuing a lost child; it is the sign that with persistence and prayer, relationships can be restored and renewed.  I cling to that thought, even in the midst of doubt. 

As the rain pours down in an almost Noah-like deluge this May Oregon day, I find comfort in the fact that these meditations, centered on what is a heart-breaking rift in my life, aren't the Sorrowful Mysteries, but the Joyful. 

Joy will come in the morning...I have to believe that.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Prayers, Worries, Grieving and Sunday Gratitude

It has been a migratory week...or maybe it migrainal week.  Not sure of the right word, but I've had a headache off and on, which has made doing much of anything, including writing, difficult.  I've spent several long hours lying in a dark room, thinking about life, death and everything in between.

That's been one of the offshoots of griefwalking...I've not just been thinking about my mother's death, but I've been going back over my life, taking a long hard look at certain important junctions where I've made critical and life-impacting decisions. 

It hasn't exactly been pretty.

I can see so many places where I've made a truly massive mistake without realizing it until much later, sometimes years later.  I look back over my life, see those moments, and say to myself, "What WAS I thinking?" The truth is that I probably wasn't really thinking at all--I was just acting or reacting to circumstances. If you'd asked me then, I would have said that I was doing what was best, but now, with the wisdom of hindsight, I can see that I wasn't. To use the only phrase that seems appropriate, I can see how I truly f-ed up parts of my life.

And now I have to live with the consequences.

Because I know if I read this on someone else's blog, I'd be wondering "What did she do that was so horrific? Have an abortion? Kill someone? Rob a bank?" I'll try to put some of those questions to rest. No. No. No.

What I did are things like not try hard enough to repair a hurting relationship with the consequences that now I see the loss and feel the sorrow of that destruction.  I made decisions that have had enormous financial consequences, with the result that, now, at a time when many of my friends are happily thinking about retirement and the good life in a few years, I worry about how I'm doing to feed the cats next month.  And, what may be the most difficult to face, I see where I didn't follow my gifts, my heart and passion and now I am having to face the thought that it might be too late to ever use those in the way that God wanted me to.

So I am praying for a second chance, an opportunity to try again.  I'm not sure that it's even possible, it may be that too much water has gone under the proverbial bridge for the relationship to ever be restored. The financial impact of bad decisions may not be able to be undone at my age and in this economy.  I may have gone too far down a path to reverse and use my gifts the way they were supposed to be used.

It may not be possible, but then again, I am reminded that God specializes in the impossible. Who could imagine that a single tiny apple seed could eventually grow a thousand orchards? So this week, I am going to pray (added to that list of prayers that I am experimenting with answers) that I somehow can get those second chances.

If I can, then this time you can be sure that I will pay much closer attention to my decisions and do my best not to blow it a second time.

With that, this Sunday I am grateful for:

1.  Fresh strawberries.
2.  A desktop fountain and its soft gurgle.
3.  Skype and the ability to see as well as talk to my son and his girlfriend.
4.  A forget-me-not that took up residence in one of my pots on the deck.
5. The internet, that allows me to connect with people in a way undreamed just a few years ago.